To you, dear friends in Christ of the Southwest California Synod and in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to our Lutheran, ecumenical and interfaith partners locally and in the wider world, and to everyone else to whom this comes: Grace and peace in Christ, and warm greetings from Los Angeles, the city of the angels!
Sometimes we’d like to hear an angel too, one like Gabriel who could come to us and bring us good news — good news so convincing we’d never doubt it, news that could shape and guide our lives ever thereafter. But for most of us, news comes in more mundane ways: on television or on the internet, through social media, or (for me and a few still) in the morning newspaper.
Unfortunately, much of the news is disturbing and sad: conflict and hunger around the world; oppression of people of one race or religion by another; governments blustering against one another or bullying their own people. Even in our country, there sometimes seems no limit to the poisonous, dismissive ways some people are willing to speak of other people — in language which pretends to be debate, but is really slander.
Even here in this city there is much to disturb us: new levels of homelessness; fear of the deportation of our friends and neighbors who live and work among without immigration papers — many of them Lutherans and members of our congregations. There is anxiety about how we treat the earth — the recent wildfires, though natural in themselves, may be intensifying in frequency or effect because of the human pollution of the environment.
And more concretely, many among us have personal fears: advancing age, illness of body or mind, or poverty, or loneliness. The world can seem bleak and hopeless, even in the bright sunshine of Southern California, and we may sometimes feel like a people walking in darkness — uncertain, tentative, and fearful.
But as Isaiah said so many years ago, those who walk in darkness have seen a great light — on us has light shined. For we know — and we hear again at Christmas — that we have a God who loves us — a God who came to us as a human infant to be with us and to be like us.
God came to us in Jesus, born in a stable — in a child born in poverty and far from home, to remind us that out of all the people of the earth, God’s heart is closest to the poor and the dispossessed. We must care for those who suffer.
God came to us in a child whose conception was mysterious, to remind us that families and relationships are complicated, but that they remain the basic and best way we care for each other. All families need our care and support.
God came to us in a vulnerable, dependent baby, to remind us that God is present not just in cosmic power and glory, but in human weakness and the complexity and fragility of the human body. We should respect our bodies as we do our souls.
God came to us in human form — truly human — in a particular time and place, in a gender and an ethnicity and a historical situation — not to make that gender or ethnicity or history sacred or superior, but to remind us that God is all that and yet more — truly present with humans in all their variety, in every time and place. Believing in such a God makes all other humans our siblings and our responsibility.
And thus God is present with us now. God is present in our humanity, in our love and caring, in our church and its worship, in water and bread and wine. But most of all, God is among us in the acts of love that shape our lives and give purpose to our communities. God is among us in our service to the world around us. God is with us even in our need, as we — in turn — are helped and served by others.
I wish you a Christmas full of love and caring; a Christmas when you are drawn closer to those dear to you — but also to those you may not know, but who need your help and concern. God came to us in Jesus that we might understand God’s closeness to us — now our challenge is to show that we understand God’s presence by our closeness to each other. So — even in these times — hold tight: for God is with you!
I wish you a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year!